The complaint



Commentary on the novel by Leonardo Sciascia

Sicily, summer 1964. The thermometer reads 44 degrees. In a small town of 7.500 inhabitants, near Palermo, the pharmacist Manno receives an anonymous letter composed from words cut from the newspaper. Incisive words, which make him pale: “This letter is your death sentence, for what you have done you will die”. A good man, averse to questioning or political involvement, he would die days later, during a hunt, along with his traveling companion, Dr. Roscio, respected local doctor. This is how it starts The complaint, by Leonardo Sciascia (1921-1989).

Born in Rocalmute, an Italian commune with less than 10 inhabitants, in the province of Agrigento, in the Sicily region, the writer, essayist and politician Leonardo Sciascia was the eldest of three children. His mother, a housewife, came from a family of artisans, while his father, like his grandfather, worked in a sulfur mine in the region. Leonardo was a provincial teacher, anti-fascist, collaborator of several newspapers and magazines, always being an activist of Italian political and social causes. In 1976 he was elected to the City Council of Palermo by the Italian Communist Party. The following year he left the party. He subsequently served in the Italian Parliament, and in 1979 he became a member of the European Parliament.

His novels and soap operas were always marked by criticism of political corruption and arbitrary power, with mafia action standing out in this domain. Due to the set of his books, he became one of the most outstanding Italian writers in the last decades of the last century. He wrote, among others, the day of the owl (1961) The Council of Egypt (1963) A to each his own (1966) The context e The plot (both from 1971), majorana disappeared (1975) Candide, or a story dreamed of in Sicily (1977) The Witch and the Captain (1986) 1912 + 1 (1986) Open doors (1987) The Knight and Death (1988), a simple story (1989), in addition to at least 6 books of short stories, 3 of poetry and another 3 of essays. His first big hit, the day of the owl, was turned into a film by Damiano Damiani (1968), while The plot was filmed by Francesco Rosi in 1976 under the title “Illustrious Corpses”. He died in Palermo, aged 68, of plasma cell cancer.

Investigations into the deaths that occurred at the beginning of The complaint (1966) are gradually being abandoned by the police authorities, who do not come to any conclusion. This makes Laurana, high school teacher and friend of dr. Roscio tries, alone, to unravel the mystery behind the crimes. An Italian and history teacher at the classic school in Palermo, Laurana was single, about 40 years old and lived in the small town with her mother, commuting daily to the capital. He left with the seven o'clock and returned with the two o'clock. In the afternoons he read and studied. “I spent the night in Circle or at the pharmacy and come home around eight.” During the summer, he dedicated himself “to his works of literary criticism, which he published in magazines that nobody in the city read”.

Examining the anonymous letter received by the pharmacist, Laurana finds that the words were probably clipped from the Catholic newspaper Roman Observer, because on the back of the page one could read “the word unicuique and then, in smaller characters and in a confusing manner, ordine naturale, menti obversantur, time, thirst”. Laurana also verifies that the newspaper has not been sold in the city since the war and that only two people receive it by mail. Based on this observation and a series of other clues that she discovers, she patiently puts together the pieces of an intricate puzzle. This allows you to conclude that the real target of the criminal(s) was Dr. Roscio, while the letter (and the death of the pharmacist Manno) was just to throw a light on it. Laurana is faced with an overwhelming gear, which physically eliminates anyone upon whom the slightest suspicion falls.

The complaint is a concise, dry and forceful book, which explores with rare happiness one of the author's favorite themes: the domination of the powerful over the destitute, with the consequent inertia of public institutions, with the guilty silence of the local inhabitants and with the generalized corruption giving the tone.

With a broad knowledge of the socio-economic structure of Sicily, Leonardo Sciascia writes a political-police novel in which humor and fine irony are always present – ​​curiously, those who provoke the tastiest situations are the elderly. The complaint it can be read in a few hours and, I believe, many readers will hope, like other works by Leonardo Sciascia, to find it again in the form of a film.

*Afrânio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus.

A different version was published in the “Saturday Notebook” of the extinct Jornal da Tarde in 11.06.1988.


Leonardo Sciascia. The complaint. Translation: Ildete de Oliveira Castro. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1988, 114 pages.


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